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Joule’s Quest for Fuels from CO2, Sunlight and Water

Submitted by on July 3, 2014 – 5:04 pmNo Comment

by Jim Lane (Biofuels Digest)  … From Massachusetts, word arrived from Joule this week that the EPA has favorably reviewed the company’s Microbial Commercial Activity Notice for Joule’s first commercial ethanol-producing catalyst. This clears the catalyst for commercial use at the company’s demonstration plant in New Mexico, the company says.

There’s been quite a bit of congratulatory chirping on the internet — and Joule was moved to put out a press release.

“The favorable review of our first MCAN is an important step,” said Paul Snaith, President and CEO of Joule. “This work will help us not only meet or better EPA regulations beyond our plant in Hobbs, but also outside the US as we industrialize our solar, CO2-to-fuels platform.”

On the one hand, this marks the first time that EPA has allowed the commercial use of a modified cyanobacterium. MCAN filings are required by the EPA prior to commercial use of certain modified microbes, including for biofuel or bio-based chemical production. In its review of Joule’s MCAN, EPA had no health or safety objections to use of the modified strain at the Hobbs facility. Joule and EPA have entered into a voluntary consent order which allows Joule to use this catalyst strain commercially at the Hobbs facility, while also providing EPA with further data resulting from such use.

The MCANs itself don’t reveal much about Joule — the 2012 notice did confirm that they have been working with the above-mentioned Synecocchus— which is a gram-negative cyanobacteria. Probably a strain of Synecocchus elongatus.

Bottom line, Joule is trying to make a robust, economically viable strain of an alkanogen, alkeneogen or ethanologen.

In this way, an ethanologen, alkeneogen or alkanogen is an organism that sweats ethanol, alkenes or alkanes. All you basically have to do is collect it, like milking a cow.

Contrast that with most biomass-based enterprises, where you grow an organism, then harvest it, crush it, extract the useful material and discard the waste.  …

Making Joule even more interesting — its organisms are trained to sweat diesel-range alkanes, or chemically high-value alkenes like ethylene or propylene. Or alcohols like ethanol.

… In the case of Joule’s organisms, they use CO2, sunlight and water as the most plentiful inputs.

Plenty of organisms use those same inputs — all photosynthetic microalgae, for example. But you can’t milk them like a cow. You have to crush them.

Among all companies out there — generally speaking just Algenol and Joule have gone down this path of creating an ethanologen that you can milk. Joule has taken it one step further by aiming for an alkanogen. That is, a milkable microbe that makes diesel or jet fuel directly from C)2, sunlight and water.  READ MORE and MORE (Joule)

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